Graeme Smith’s things are hitting the bulk of the runs in a fourth innings chase and winning Test series.
There were no miracles from Australia’s bowlers, because the bowlers who could perform them are gone. South Africa chased down 183 for the loss of one wicket, won the match, won the series and perhaps even won the right to be considered the best side in the world.
Graeme Smith is a hard man. Our hero, Neil Manthorp, describes a captain who takes fitness tests when injured and if he fails, tears up the results and plays anyway. Smith seems to play the majority of his cricket with a broken finger or rib. His team are made in his image.
They play to win and they do what’s necessary. They’ve got stroke players like AB de Villiers and fast bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. They’ve also got Paul Harris who everyone says is shite, but who doesn’t give a toss and just gets on with the business of going for hardly any runs and letting the fast bowlers storm in.
They’ve also got Neil McKenzie, whose batting is so hypnotically unspectacular, it doesn’t just sedate the crowd, it impairs their motor skills as well. Graeme Smith wants these players in his side because he wants his side to win and he doesn’t much care how that happens.
The proof is in the texture and succulence of the biltong.19 Appeals
Neil McKenzie did something. Tony Greig called him brave, Mark Nicholas branded him stupid. We’d like to add ‘mental’ to the equation as well.
Of course, Neil McKenzie is known to be a bit mental, but this was a different kind of mental. He took up a fielding position maybe two yards from the bat, almost directly in front, wearing no protection whatsoever.
Entirely predictably, Ricky Ponting drove the next ball straight into him. It was hard to gauge whether Ponting had middled it or not in the yard and a half that the ball travelled, but he definitely didn’t hold back. It was a full backlift, full follow-through kind of a drive.
In slow motion replays you can see McKenzie’s arm flesh doing a macabre disco dance at the point of impact. He grimaced as the shot was being played, but ensured he didn’t really make much of a fuss afterwards. You know why? It’s because he’s hard.
This kind of thing irritates us. We all know that it hurt like hell. We’ve all got nerves. We know how they work. Being hit by a hard driven cricket ball causes pain and pain hurts – that’s very much its defining feature.
McKenzie moved out of that fielding position immediately afterwards, so perhaps he’s not as brave, stupid or mental as he’d have us believe.4 Appeals
JP Duminy’s Test record is improving: one in his first innings, 50 not out in his second and 166 in his third.
The 166 kicks in the balls that he gave Australia’s bowlers were particularly useful as they helped produce 275 ball kicks for South Africa’s last three wickets. Those are some heavily kicked balls in that Aussie bowling attack.
It strikes us that South Africa are turning into the kind of side who you can never quite get on top of. You think you’re on top of them, then you look away for a moment and suddenly they’re standing above you calmly hefting a huge club with a nail in it while giving you a raised eyebrow look that says ‘our turn now’.
We’re also struck by the fact that Australia’s bowling attack only ever seems to have the feeblest, soapiest grip on the opposition these days.8 Appeals
South Africa could never have chased down 414 without a hundred from Graeme Smith. After he was out for 108, they couldn’t have won without a hundred from AB de Villiers.
What’s really impressed us about this South African win is not that they chased down such a huge total on the final day, or that they did it against what is nominally the best side in the world. (Interesting appearance of the word ‘nominally’ there, eh?).
What’s most impressive is that they managed to fight back so comprehensively after Mitchell Johnson’s spell of five wickets for five runs earlier in the match. A team should be pretty damn dispirited after that happens to them. To overcome it betrays a genuine confidence that is quite, quite sickening. It also makes Ricky Ponting’s traditional pre-match words about South African mental scars seem a bit meaningless.
It’s being said everywhere, but if Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had been playing, South Africa never would have made it. We’ll go one further and say that if they had been playing, South Africa wouldn’t have won, even if the wisened greats had bowled a load of toss. Sometimes you earn wickets through more than just your performance on the day and that’s a quality that’s extremely hard to replace.
AB de Villiers is in the process of building a reputation that he’s hard to bowl at. He also has another reputation, it seems. It might have been removed by now, but at the time of writing, his Wikipedia page featured the following sentence:
“De Villiers enjoys late nights while on tour with some of the local talent.”
There’s no preamble to that. It’s just one of a series of urelated ‘facts’ about his personal life, in between some quotes about Jesus and the name of his high school.7 Appeals
Perhaps the most striking thing about Mitchell Johnson is his ridiculous cartoon character tufty hair. After that it’s his bowling.
We watched quite a bit of Johnson when Australia toured India. He was their best bowler. For all the talk about Brett Lee being the fast strike bowler, Johnson’s not really any slower than him. He’s left-handed, he swings the ball and he doesn’t just pitch it a foot outside the off stump all the time like he used to. He does it quite a lot, but not all the time.
He’s got quite a round-arm action as well and if he masters reverse swing, we could be seeing some left-arm, dipping, inswinging yorkers, like a mirror-Waqar.
Mostly though, we’re struck by his pace. He’s consistently fast, 90mph plus, yet no-one seems to consider him a fast bowler. He clearly is.
Mitchell Johnson arrived as a Test bowler today, taking 7-42 against South Africa. It’s the kind of performance that’ll convince him he can get anyone out.4 Appeals
People still slag Anil Kumble off for bowling too fast and not turning the ball. It’s not really the point. 619 Test wickets say that he’s right and they’re wrong.
Kumble never spun the ball much – it’s not a recent thing – yet he’s been the best spin bowler in India for about 18 years. Being the best spinner in India isn’t like being the best spinner in England. There’s competition.
Maybe the problem is that people rate him as a leg-spinner, when really they should be rating him as a bowler. Kumble’s method has more in common with Glenn McGrath than Shane Warne. Make the batsman play. Move the ball a touch. Do it again. And again.
He was never a leg-spinner anyway. He was a googly bowler – particularly in his early days. They make that kind of distinction in India and it says a lot about the way the nation regards spin bowling. In England there are two kinds of spinners – off-spinners and leg-spinners. In India they recognise that there are many ways to bowl spin and any of them can be successful.
If every bowler bowled fast-medium, the game would be dull. If every spin bowler were the same, the game would be dull. How many tall, bouncy, medium-pace googly bowlers have there been? Anil Kumble was a pretty intriguing bowler. For most of his career, he had a quite marvellous moustache as well and isn’t that really what it’s all about? Facial hair?6 Appeals
6-1 off three overs? That’s a win.
We need to be more decisive about things like this. We can’t just say that there was ‘no result’ because there wasn’t much cricket. That’s just laziness. There was plenty of cricket.
Three overs is plenty and what we saw was clearly an England win. Steve Harmison put in an awesome performance walking in, whereas Mark Boucher was dire sitting in the dressing room.
There was, quite simply, a huge gulf in class between the two sides.7 Appeals
Neil has been earnestly telling Test Match Special listeners how sandwiches are 99p after 7pm in the shop near where he’s staying.
TMS make a grave, grave error every time they don’t use this man for a match.4 Appeals
Before this match Graeme Smith said that Kevin Pietersen might be successful in the short-term via the ‘balls to the wall approach’, so that’s what must have happened today.
But before half of you try and apply this colourful philosophy to your everyday lives, Graeme Smith also had a warning. He said the approach wasn’t sustainable. Big silent boo to Graeme Smith, everybody.
Wherever their balls were, it was nice to see England’s bowlers having a bit of fun.
England v South Africa, fourth Test at the Oval, day one
South Africa 194 all out (James Anderson 3-42)
While we’re coming clean about these things, we might as well ‘fess up on this one as well.
South Africa are probably the least popular Test team other than England (sorry people, but we have a richly questionable history as a nation, largely at the expense of other cricketing countries). Graeme Smith is arguably South Africa’s least popular player. We quite like him.
We like that he was made South Africa captain at just 22 having not been part of the first team, yet felt that he could immediately slag Lance Klusener off upon taking the job. We’ve nothing against Lance Klusener, but he was a major part of the team and Smith’s approach was the equivalent of punching out the huge guy on your first day in prison.
Then he came to England and made 277, 85 and 259 in his first three Test innings over here. Some cricketers can’t attain that level of merciless thuggery after a lifetime in the game. We hated it of course, but we didn’t hate Smith for doing it.
We also like the unbelievable stupidity of the man when he tried to put himself forward as a kind of lightning rod for Antipodean ridicule when South Africa toured Australia. The Australians were only too happy to oblige, but at least he was trying to be noble.
This week he did for another England captain with the most sublimely cussed fourth innings batting imaginable. It was elevated yet further by several of his batting partners virtually bursting into tears at several points. Graeme Smith didn’t concern himself with any of that rubbish. He just carried on hitting runs until South Africa had won the series.24 Appeals